From the Bench: Judge Mulroy’s Guide to Having Confidence in the Courtroom

Post Authored by Jack Sanker

The prolonged, expensive litigation that coagulates in the veins of Cook County’s civil courts to the point of near paralysis can be attributed to many things. Vengeful litigants, unclear goals, lazy opponents, burdensome discovery-if you ask a hundred litigators, you’re likely to get just as many explanations for the cause.

“Judges often decide things for people whose egos don’t allow them to make the rational decision on their own, even if it’s obvious.” Judge Thomas Mulroy’s judicial philosophy can probably be best described as a benevolent, but ruthless, pragmatism. Frequent practitioners in room 1906 of the Daley Center aren’t surprised when Judge Mulroy (politely) stops a long-winded argument to ask a red-faced lawyer a simple question: “What is it that you and your client want?”

To Judge Mulroy, one of the biggest issues plaguing civil litigators is a lack of confidence. It takes many forms: a lack of faith in one’s lawyering ability, uncertainty about the propriety of advice to clients, or resignation to suspicious, inefficient, and prolonged litigation that benefits nobody. The red-faced lawyer that he tries to reign in may really only want a single document, while asking to depose the CEO of a multinational corporation.

“The lack of confidence[] especially is one of the biggest hurdles for young lawyers.” Judge Mulroy says that it’s more efficient to just ask the other side what you want and explain why you want it instead of filing a motion to compel. More often than not, it’s easier–and cheaper–to compromise on that than asking the judge to do it for you.

According to him, there are three main shocks that young attorneys experience when they graduate law school:

  • 0-3 years out of law school: moving from school to practice, establishing yourself, learning your craft, while, often simultaneously falling on your face;
  • 4-10 years out: specializing in your practice and learning the marketing and business aspects of the practice, all while managing other attorneys and staff under you;
  • 10+ years: transitioning to leadership and steering roles.

The lawyers that navigate these shocks best, says Mulroy, are those that cultivate and rely on a robust network of personal and professional contacts. “Not for transactional, quid-pro-quo reasons . . . but as part of your membership in a profession.” Judge Mulroy doesn’t believe that law schools teach “networking” or properly convey its importance to young lawyers. “We don’t have jobs. We have a profession.” The profession differs from a mere job in that it permeates all aspects of a young lawyer’s life: social, non-working hours, and at home. Learning how to manage relationships with clients, opponents, judges, vendors, subordinate staff, supervisors, and potential referral sources or business development contacts is key to maneuvering through those three major stages of your career.

When asked how best to form those relationships, Judge Mulroy has a simple piece of advice: “every case you have, you should come away with a new friend.”

About Judge Mulroy:

Judge Thomas R. Mulroy became the 141st President of the Chicago Bar Association in June 2017.  After practicing law for over 30 years, Judge Mulroy became a judge in 2007 and sits in the Law Division’s Commercial Calendar section.  He spearheaded the Commercial Calendar’s innovative and successful mandatory arbitration program which assists litigants by expediting the adjudication of certain smaller cases and he is the supervising judge of the program.

Judge Mulroy was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois before joining Jenner & Block, where he became a partner and practiced as a criminal defense and commercial trial lawyer representing clients in state and federal courts throughout the country. 

Judge Mulroy was active in the representation of indigent clients through Catholic Charities, the Legal Assistance Foundation, and the Federal Defender Program.  He is a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers and currently serves as Vice President of the Board of Governors at Loyola University’s School of Law.  He sponsors the annual Mulroy Award for Excellence in Evidence at the law school.

Judge Mulroy has served as Special Counsel for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission; Chairman of the American Bar Association’s Civil Procedure and Evidence Committee; a Board member of the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education; a Board member and life member of the Illinois Bar Foundation; a Board member of the Chicago Bar Foundation and adjunct professor of trial practice at  Loyola, Northwestern, and DePaul Universities.

Judge Mulroy earned his bachelor’s degree from Santa Clara University and his J.D. from Loyola University School of Law.


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